What’s Driving Student Decisions? Analyzing 2022 Ontario College Application Data

What’s Driving Student Decisions? Analyzing 2022 Ontario College Application Data was written by Hagar Effah, Sarah Brumwell, Margaret de Leon & Jackie Pichette, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Ontario college applicants more open to online learning, but younger students prefer more in-class options

A survey of recent college applicants finds that applicants across demographic groups are more open to online learning than they were prior to the pandemic. Mature learners continue to be more open to online and hybrid options than younger students, who would still prefer in-person learning. Regardless of age, class format was a key driver in the applicant decision-making process. Ontario colleges should continue monitoring applicant and student preferences and strive to optimize the distribution of program and course offerings between online, in-person and hybrid formats.

What’s Driving Student Decisions? Analyzing 2022 Ontario College Application Data uses data from more than 14,000 students surveyed through OCAS’s 2022 Applicant Experience and Intention Survey (AEIS). In 2021, HEQCO and OCAS partnered to analyze the pandemic’s impacts on college applications. An earlier report utilizing the AEIS, Remote Opportunities for Adult Learners, reported that mature learners accessed college programs at higher rates than before the pandemic. This increase was due to a confluence of COVID-related factors, including labour market disruptions, remote work arrangements and the flexibility of online learning. New questions added to the survey in 2022 examine learning preferences at three distinct points in time (prior to the pandemic, at the time of the survey and moving forward) and applicants’ intentions to access supports and services.

Younger students are less enthusiastic about online learning than mature students. For respondents aged 16 to 24, there was a three percentage point increase in respondents who considered themselves “very open” to online learning compared to before the pandemic. Younger students’ preference for in-person learning, particularly those applying directly from high school, may reflect negative experiences with emergency remote learning during the pandemic as well as the desire for opportunities to develop in-person social connections. All demographic groups are more positive about hybrid learning, particularly women between 25 and 34 who prefer it by a wide margin. As online learning continues to normalize and as the future of work becomes more digitally enabled, openness to online and hybrid learning may continue to grow.

Regardless of preference, most respondents indicated format is important to them. Among the 80% of respondents who indicated that their decision to pursue their college program was not affected by the pandemic, the top drivers for their program selection were the class delivery format and/or a longstanding interest in their chosen program or field. Among the 20% of applicants who indicated that the pandemic did affect their decision-making, most reported that it was COVID-19’s impact on class delivery format that mattered most.